March 24, 2021

Organizations Must Improve Skilling To Futureproof Their Business And Their Workforce

It is critical that organizations prioritize reskilling their workforces to futureproof their … [+] business….

Even as optimism over the more widespread distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has buoyed business and economic optimism for the balance of 2021, many organizations continue to struggle to address a pre-pandemic workforce issue that has only been exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis. Despite the millions of unemployed job seekers impacted by the pandemic, many businesses say they are struggling to find workers with the necessary skills to fill open positions. This skills gap – and the reskilling revolution needed to close it – must be a top priority if businesses want to bounce back from the pandemic and position themselves to thrive over the next decade.

Even before the spike in unemployment due to COVID-19, experts were sounding the alarm about the widening skills gap in the American workforce. One month before the pandemic was declared a national emergency, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce published a report in which 74 percent of hiring managers said there was a lack of skilled talent in recent years, while nearly half said that candidates lacked the skills needed to fill open jobs. The pandemic has only deepened this problem, with a recent IBM survey finding that less than four in 10 HR executives say they have the skills needed to achieve their enterprise goals.

The irony is that the skills gap continues to grow even though both employers and employees agree that reskilling and upskilling are important and necessary. Companies are aware that they need individuals with more advanced competencies, and workers want to learn skills that will earn them a higher income and keep them relevant and employable in an increasingly digital workforce.

In fact, according to Randstad RiseSmart’s recent Skilling Today survey, nearly 70 percent of HR professionals that participated in skilling initiatives in 2020 said they ask or even require their employees to upskill or reskill to meet changing business needs, while 55 percent of employees said they wanted to learn new skills or upgrade existing ones.

So if employees are eager to learn and employers want to train them, why is there such a disconnect between ideology and implementation?

One obvious answer is COVID-19. The pandemic upended the world of work, cost millions of workers their jobs, and forced millions more to quickly adapt to remote work. It is no wonder that Randstad research found that 37 percent of workers said they struggled to acquire new skills needed during crisis. But uncertainty surrounding how best to reskill workers involves more than just the coronavirus. Even before the pandemic, only one in five talent leaders said they were providing retraining and reskilling even though nine in ten said it was their responsibility to do so.

One major issue that businesses are struggling with is determining who in their organization should be reskilled. RiseSmart’s skilling survey found that although most companies value continual learning, 39 precent that undertook skilling in 2020 said they offered skilling and training opportunities to some – but not all – employees, with team leads, managers and high-potential employees the most likely to receive training opportunities. Without a more holistic, expansive company-wide approach to skilling, organizations will struggle to build a diverse and inclusive workforce. Additionally, businesses that lack a defined skilling roadmap will continue to battle a competency gap when compared to competitors that take a more democratized approach to training their workforces.

Alternatively, some organizations may be hesitant to reskill their workers because they are worried that employees will take their newfound skills and leave for a competitor, but research shows those fears are unfounded. Eighty-seven percent of C-suite leaders polled in Randstad Sourceright’s 2021 Talent Trends survey said they believe reskilling their employees will actually help with workforce retention, while Skilling Today found that 43 percent of employees who upskilled or reskilled said they did so to stay relevant in their current role, and nearly 30 percent learned new skills to help them advance their careers within the company.

Another trend that is slowing the momentum of reskilling efforts at many companies is a lack of guidance and direction. A number of employers have focused less on instructor-led skilling programs and provide little or no guidance to employees about training efforts, instead relying entirely on workers to self-start. Yet among the HR professionals surveyed that did participate in skilling initiatives, 91 percent believe that learning would be more effective with expert guidance, while only nine percent expressed confidence that employees can guide their own skilling journey effectively.

Ultimately, many companies seem to struggle with either not knowing what skills their organization needs, or how to go about launching an effective program to address the skills gaps they do have.  

Organizations seeking to create an effective skilling program should first conduct a skills gap analysis that can provide better insights into what skills are most in-demand and identify competencies that their organization may be lacking. Then companies can create an overall strategic skills roadmap and individualized learning plans so employees can make the best decisions about what courses – and skills – to pursue. Alternatively, companies can also provide employees with new skills via on-the-job training, internal gigs and stretch assignments, which for many workers is their favorite way to learn.

Ultimately, businesses must embrace the skilling revolution, or they will be left behind. With top talent becoming increasingly scarce, it is critical that organizations promote internal mobility by advancing the skills of their workforce rather than relying on outside hiring. On the bright side, both employers and employees are enthusiastic about skilling, and closing the skills gap and helping workers acquire new competencies will benefit both parties. The next step for businesses is to provide opportunities and secure buy-in from everyone in their organization, and to determine which skills their business needs most and develop a strategic roadmap to help workers acquire them.